Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

It’s up to EU

So the saying goes, if you can’t explain it clearly to a 5-year-old then you really don’t understand it yourself. Apply this to the E.U and find yourself a 5-year-old to test the theory. I would be interested to speak to you and the 5-year-old after your explanation to see how you both got on. If only our political class had tried this before they embarked on their ”Leave” or ”Remain” campaigns as the last few months has been little more than claims and counter claims. These have now mostly been discredited as part truths at best or lies at worst. The truth is and the facts are that they don’t and can’t know. The painful reality of the 23rd June and our pending referendum is that it is change we are voting for, regardless, and to make it in/out or status quo/unknown is naive. The biggest question of all is why are we having this referendum in the first place.

So far the campaigns might as well have been saying that each of us will get our own Unicorn and money tree if we stay in the EU but our ears will fall off and our kitchen taps will all leak if we leave EU, or visa versa. Most of the claims on what The EU costs or doesn’t, what the EU does or doesn’t do or what the EU will be or not be in the future have been rightly pulled apart (in part) by the opposition but they never let facts or the truth temper their best interest not their possible raw political gain. The sign written Out Battle Bus is a prime example of a ”fact” that is just not true.

So what can we do before we make the most important political and social decision of our lives and of our generation? Firstly, ask yourself how the EU affects you directly or indirectly? This is a tough question. It’s hard to know but think about the hours you work and the hours others work to support you. Those hours along with maternity and paternity pay, sickness and holiday pay are all down to the EU. As are European mobile phone charges, migration, free trade, product safety standards, VAT setting, tax on tampons, education, nursing staff, doctors training and food quality. Check the facts on those and then you can make an informed decision for you and yours.

Heaven help us if we make the most important democratic decision of our lives solely on migration and immigration. We can not go back fifty years to a time of Police Officers with whistles and no radios, when you mostly likely would have lived, worked and shopped in your town and your world was a much smaller place. That is not today and we can’t go back to that unenlightened time even if we really wanted to. Now is not a time to be romantic or nostalgic nor is it a time to rely on all those who we elected last year and this year. They have too much to gain or lose politically from this vote and they are hardly likely to tell you the whole truth now so close to the actual vote.

There will be two debates that I will be moderating in my BBC Radio Bristol day job during June and my plan for both these debates is simple. Get answers to questions that are truthful and factual. Only when the head and mind is informed can the heart be allowed to guide. The 23rd June has to be a head lead decision not an emotional response to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ coming over here and doing what ever. If the EU and its solution really were as simple as our black top tabloid newspapers sell it there would be no need for a debate at all.

One last thing. We all need to learn the very important difference between migration (a net figure in the last year of 184,000 to the UK from within the EU), immigration (a net figure of 186,000 people to the UK from outside the EU) and refugee, who is someone who has no choice other than leave their home or be killed.

One last question. Why has every British Prime Minister been pro the EU with the majority of Treaties sign by Conservative Prime Ministers?

And for the record I am undecided.

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For Facts Sake!

In or out it has certainly been shaken about and what ever happens the day after 23rd of June, Europe will never be the same again. This is not a vote for change or status quo (although their brand of four cord rock is very popular) it is a vote for change or change. Before “that” referendum you have the local elections on 5th May and even if you council is not up for X marks the spot this year, you will still have a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for. Yes you do. Unfortunately it’s not like the one from Batman with a loveable Irish side kick and a red phone under a transparent cake cover, our Police and Crime Commissioners hold our police to account and set the crime plan to help us feel safe and be safe. Now you know. Do you know who is standing? You should.

So it is pencils to the ready and let’s wait to see who comes knocking our doors wearing a rosette looking to “count on our vote”. You might have a long wait. It’s just not like it use to be in delivery of politics or its outcome. The delivery seems to be more about reassuring the core voter that they are right to back you message (much like most newspapers assure their readers that they have bought the right paper and here is why we are as one by not letting the facts get in the way) or it is about bombarding “the undecided” with a material ranging from simple policy headings to good old-fashioned fear. Project fear.

And here is the real fear. Turnout. Look at the recent turn out for national and local elections. In 2015 the General Election turnout was 66.1% and the best we have managed on one of those since the Second World War was in 1950 at 83.9%. Still, could be worse. In 2001 it was 59.4%. At best nationally a third of the country can’t be bothered to vote. In the European elections of 2014 the turnout was 35.6%, the high point was 2004 when 38.52% of us voted and the lowest was in 1999 when just 24% bothered to play X marks the E.U spot. Our local elections are even worse when these determine our day-to-day governance and management! 2012 saw Bristol make a huge change to the way it was run to being governed by an elected mayor. This massive change to how the residents council tax was spent was decided by just 28% of registered voters. Some Wards didn’t get above 20%. 260,000 people either didn’t care or didn’t understand. This is what we proudly call democracy and this is what we hold as a standard against other countries in our foreign policy and its advocacy.

What can be done? Legislate to make us all vote, have a none of the above box, use the same technology behind Bitcoin to offer secure on-line voting? MAybe we could turn it into an X Factor or The Voice type thingie where Dermot O’Leary has all the contestants, err politicians on a Saturday night TV show standing in a row, complete with tension building, drum beating music and a long pregnant pause before announcing the winner? All of these have been considered.

Surely it is actually down to us. If we can’t be bothered to vote then why should our political class be bothered by us. If our political class seemingly can’t be bothered then why should we. It is down to us to change it. It is our vote not theirs.

Democracy is about the people, about and for us. We need and must be involved, to turn up, to seek out the information and ideas that best suit us and our loved ones and then vote for them. We need to read, listen, ask, check and qualify then turn up to vote as it is our tax that pays for it and our tax that the elected spend on everything. “Taxes are price we pay for civilisation” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr the noted US Supreme Court Judge. Our voting determines how we want our civilisation to be, whether it is for our local councillors or our place in Europe. So maybe it is worth a few minutes of our time to research, discuss and actually vote, stating on 5th May. It’s always much more fun when you take part rather than moaning from the sidelines.

M.E again

When I met Naomi at her home last year she has been housebound since her teens. I have since researched her illness and spoken to others who live with M.E. I have interviewed those who are trying to raise the profile, the money and challenge for the possible treatments for this chronic condition. From all this a number of issues have become apparent to me about M.E.

The first is that this illness is hidden. The considered numbers of those living with ME in the UK are 4000 per million, making a total of around 250,000 with diagnosed M.E. In the U.K., from what I now understand of this illness, the diagnosis is, at best, less hit and mainly miss. M.E is mostly not a positive diagnosis but a diagnosis of exclusion, a “we don’t know what it is so it maybe M.E”. Sonya Chowdhury, who runs the Bristol based Charity Action For M.E, suggested to me in a recent interview on BBC Radio Bristol that M.E today is like cancer from a generation ago. M.E is a phrase, a headline with little story, known as one illness, one size fits all. Today, for cancer, this is not the case so maybe the future of M.E is positive diagnosis and targeted treatment for the potentially many types of M.E there could be. More personal evidence about the state of M.E diagnosis is that someone I know took ten years to get their diagnosis while another friend took just 10 months. I’d wager that many more are living with the symptoms of M.E and are battling not knowing why or what they have.

The second thing I have learned since meeting Naomi and sharing her story of living M.E is that the illness is a lot more common than I realised. It is hidden too. Six people I know well who have the illness. Six. Before meeting Naomi I had heard very little about the illness and I had bought into the “yuppie ‘flu” tag. All six family and friends I know have varying degrees of this chronic and very real condition. Why did I not know? It is because they were ashamed to talk about it, to tell anyone, to fess up to having M.E. They were ashamed of it for fear being judged as hypochondriac, sickly or malingering. They did not want to that one person in the office who is “always off sick”. You know they type? You, me, we are wrong.

The third thing is something I really don’t understand. Why does the media still portray this illness as not really real? I have seen and spoken to those who have M.E and heard ans see their realities of it. I can say that it is real to them, to their doctors, family and friends. It has real consequences and a reality all its own. The media “it’s not really real” attitude perhaps leads to the wider medical profession not taking M.E seriously. This may lead to a lack of general understanding, investment, treatment or even attempts to find cures. Maybe it’s simply because there are just aren’t enough people dying from M.E? It only takes away your life force, without warning and little hope of it coming back, no matter how hard you will it. A recent Lancet report and paper suggests that those with diagnosed M.E are six times more likely to take their own lives than you and me. That can’t be acceptable.

So what should be done? One; take the illness seriously and give it a voice. Two; call on those who can make a change to make a change. Three; the next time you hear about M.E take it seriously. Please take M.E seriously.

Decisions, decisions

Life can be seen as series of choices, right and wrong turns, decisions. We, as a nation, face a few in the coming weeks and months. Like all choices, turns or decisions they will have consequences and outcomes that we can never fully predict. Change is good thing and it is, mostly, a positive part of life. To not embrace change is to not embrace all life is or can be. Change is possibility realised.

It’s been a while since my last blog, before Christmas last year, and much has changed. And yet much more remains the same, constant, continues. Living with the loss of a child is dreadful. It’s not in the natural order of life. Having lost a parent, close family and friends both older and younger than me, this particular loss is consuming. At times it is all-consuming. Yet from this you have to change, evolve, make new turns and make decisions to combat it, to try to ride it or it will beat you.

This week I made the decision to take two days off work. I was tired, my mind is not as sharp as I want or need it to be (and has been this way for some time now) plus I could feel the hands of depression on my shoulders. I recognise these hands from times past and I am scared, truly scared of them grabbing me again. Work, my role, what I do with and for the BBC is a privilege and it has been my anchor since Polly was killed. For a few hours each day I can take myself out of my own porous wallow and help others, maybe. My fear of taking time off was that I would end up in my wallow with no escape. I was right. Yet I have made a couple of decisions to try to turn my one life around.

Firstly I have begun counselling. My fear of this was that I would end up popping the lid off the container of my life and may not be able to get it back on again. I liken it to a forgotten Tupperware container of leftovers at the back of the fridge that you should never pop the lid off to smell the contents, you should just throw it away, both container and contents. Well my lid is off and I shall see (and feel) what comes next. The hardest thing of all in counselling for me is answering questions, not asking them, and my not trying to control the conversation to arrive at the story’s denouement. I have no idea how this story will end and that is both frightening and comforting at the same time.

Secondly I have joined a gym. I don’t like gyms. They are not my tribe. Why would you run on a machine and not get anywhere? I needed to exercise though, lose a stone and paying to be a member of a gym means I have to actually go or I will fall into what gyms really want from their members, which is their money but not their attendance. I have often wondered what would happen to a gym is every member turned up at once? A week in and having been four times, including a great session of boxing, I can say that it is having a positive effect on me. I have only joined for three months so being a member of a gym has a beginning, a middle and an end.

And this is my biggest challenge.

Memberships, life, relationships, work, love all have a beginning, a middle and an end. The reality is that most of the time we don’t know where we are along this trio of progress and reality. Ends can happen unexpectedly. Sometimes you can see them coming and sometimes you can even avoid facing them. Sometimes you can even pro-activate them, such as our EU ‘in or out’ choice we all face on the 23rd June. But an end, any end is never as simple as that. Never.

The only thing we can all do is to try to make informed choices, to decide based on what we know and try to realise what we don’t. To blindly follow others, to make choices just based the past, on others or plain ‘leadership’ is both foolish and naive. Others choices are not our choices. You own your decisions and choices much like you own your vote.

My aspiration this year is to have the dullest year possible, to react rather than pro act (not ever my natural state) and this proving harder than I thought. I have some big decisions coming over the hill that may surprise me and others in their outcomes. One thing I have certainly learnt since my daughter’s death is that change comes in many guises. It is what you do when change comes that makes the next moment, the unknown, both challenging and revealing.

Here’s to the next choice, turn, decision and revelation.

The dash to beat Daesh

Its been quite a week. The talk of war and then a notional declaration of war, but the reality is somewhat different. The fact that the UK, along with other international partners, has been bombing ‘so called’ Islamic State/ISAL/IS/Daesh in Northern Iraq for over a year and is now doing the same in Northern Syria should come as no surprise to us or them. It is exactly what they wanted and we have given it to them. David Cameron has delivered a victory to Daesh.

From the foundation of Islam, the Crusades, the rise of Wahhabism in the 18th Century, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, Sykes-Picot in 1916, the rise of House of Saud and foundation of the Islamic State of Saudi Arabia in the 1932 all combined with our various 20th and 21st Century attempts to ‘deal with the Middle East’ the west has never got it right. Now we are facing all those failures and potentially creating more. We have more often than not backed the wrong camel.

Daesh want war. They crave it. They need it. It is what they are all about. Without war they are nothing, where as we are if we choose not to fight. Europe has seen relative peace in the last 70 years, with the notable exception of the Balkans and Bosnia. There we got it wrong before we got it right. Know thine enemy and this is where we are failing again. Pacifism is no the answer either. It might be wonderful and Christian to turn the other cheek but sometimes you must use all four cheeks, face thine enemy and fight.

So what do Daesh want? Simply, they want to harm us, kill us, destroy us and they want to impose their own twisted version of Islam on the world. This version of Islam was born in what is now Saudi Arabia in the mid 1700’s as a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam. It is used by the House of Saud to run their country and, by default, run the world’s oil. The problem is that Saudi Arabia don’t run world oil any more and the low oil prices OPEC that Saudi Arabia are trying to use to destroy the USA’s fracking industry (America is all be self-sufficient in energy now thanks to fracking) by making Arabian oil cheaper than U.S produced oil is not working for them. A war suits Saudi Arabia now. If they are really worried about Daesh why aren’t Saudi Arabia using all those lovely planes, bombs and missiles we’ve sold them on Daesh? That is the biggest unanswered question. But lets be clear; Saudi Arabia is an Islamic State and there is nothing ‘so called’ about it. Amnesty International estimated last month that the Saudis had executed 151 people so far this year.

The West getting involved in the Middle East is never going to work any more than Jeremy Corbyn’s political settlement mantra. Daesh are not going to sit around a table and talk to any political conclusion but if Corbyn wants to try let him go there. It maybe prudent not to waste the money on a return fare.

The solution, if there can be such a thing with over a thousand years of none, must come politically and military from those Arab, Islamic countries along with our very distant support. It is for Saudi Arabia and Iran (and they are far from friends) to lead the charge to take on Daesh. If we continue on the path started this week it will be our war with a very long future and an uncertain outcome. To solve the Middle East it must be of their doing.

Good Grief Polly

It has been exactly four weeks since my eldest daughter Polly was killed in a car crash. It has been just over two weeks since her funeral, which was attended by 480 people. We thought about 100 would come.

In my last blog I wrote about how my daughter’s death had been reported by the media. This included the BBC, an organisation I am proud to work for, love and yet worry about on a daily basis as it faces attacks on all sides. The BBC were accurate in their reporting of Polly’s death, even if they did not include all the information they had sought from the family. They have written to me and I feel for my colleagues who are among the best journalists I know. We can all learn from this. I will certainly be a better journalist for all this.

The newspapers however were not accurate. They lifted quotes from social media without checking the provenance or the facts, causing further distress. They made claims of contact to me and other family members when to date no evidence of this can be found. The Bristol Post published my blog, contacting the BBC press office to see if I was going to get the sack for it. The credited ‘reporter’ did tweet me in the afternoon prior to publication to try to speak to me. In the Bristol Post’s published ‘report’ on my blog it says I had ‘been spoken to’ by the BBC, with all the disciplinary tone this implies. The BBC have been nothing but supportive. Other papers produced articles that were poorly written, inaccurate, with questionable personal relevance and lacking in either fact or respect. Formal complaints have been made.

This first four weeks of grief has been, err, yes. I have been back to work at BBC Radio Bristol and although I am trying I am finding it very hard. The listeners have been brilliant and the staff, my team have been complete in their support. I always said to my two elder children that they should never go to bed on a Sunday dreading Monday because if you do then you really are in the wrong job. Stop. Change it. Go to bed fundamentally happy. I love what I do and I can only hope the joy will return too.

Sitting here four weeks to the day after Polly’s death I thought I would start to make a few changes to my life. I’ve been told this is a life-changing event and I can see it is. I’m not unique, nor is our family. Other children have died in many tragic ways. Death is life and grief is not a competition as there are no winners.

The first week was awful, truly awful but with moments of real, honest, heartfelt laughter. Laughter is vital. Gallows humour is essential. You can learn from grief. I believe that.

Talking with my family, my dearest friends, my partner and my boss at work has been a huge comfort. This small group of people have been extraordinary and have reminded of who I am when I still really have no idea who I am at the moment. They have all done their best to keep me from jumping off at the deep end.

I won’t go through each day as I don’t want to read it back next year and be reminded of it but I can tell you that the first Tuesday was the worst day so far. See earlier blog. Last Sunday was awful too but lead to a Monday that I felt better. The grief kicked me in the nuts again on Tuesday. Simply, no parent should carry his or her child’s casket into a funeral. I now know what is really meant by a dead weight.

So what have I learned so far?

Drinking really does not work. I am a drinker and a cigar smoker. Don’t rely on drink; rely on your family and friends. I will give up smoking.

Right any family wrongs when you can. Don’t ever let them fester. Right beats wrong as much as truth beats lies. Don’t think you can put things right later. There really is no time like now if it needs to be said or done.

Listen to those who know you; your colleagues, your friends, your partner and your family. You are not you when you are grieving but a version of you. They know you and they will help you do what you should be doing when you really are not you.

Ride the support, the love and the messages you will get. The social media world means that you will be swamped by it. Take it, scan it, save it and then in time you can come back to it.

Cry. When you feel the need to cry just let it out. Don’t hold it in. Don’t stiffen your upper lip. Don’t worry about where you are or whom you are talking to. Cry when it comes. You need to and perhaps others need to learn from you that it is okay to cry. Try not to suppress how you really feel. I find this very hard as it is changing a habit of a lifetime.

Try and eat. I’m failing at this one but trying too. I’m either a simple snack that gives me all I need to keep going or a lavish taster menu with fine wines sort of chap. Polly, I am told, was the same.

 

I am ashamed to call myself a Journalist

On Saturday 31st October, at 1.30am, my 22-year-old eldest daughter Polly was killed when she lost control of the car she was driving and hit a tree. She was alone in her VW Beetle, no one else was hurt and, I am told, it was instant.

I can tell you that having lost my father as a child, other close family members along the timeline of life and having said many times ‘on air’ that losing a child must be the worst thing of all, it is. It really is. It’s not a grief ‘competition’ it just is. Losing a child is the worst thing of all.

Polly’s mother Sarah and her dad Simon, who brought Polly up from the age of 3 and did such a brilliant job, are broken by this, as are all our families. My eldest son, Polly’s brother Oliver, is broken too but one of the few comforts I am taking at the moment is what a fine, brave, courageous man he has become. Again his mother Sarah and dad Simon deserve all the credit.

It is Simon, Polly’s dad, who has prompted me to write this blog. I am Polly and Oliver’s father, Simon is their dad. That is always the language we use, though Ollie and Polly always call me dad when we are together. Language is vital if we are to understand who we are and what we do.

The news of my daughter’s death, because of the nature of the work I used to do (I know I will never be the same again) and who I am engaged to means that there is some media interest in me with the local and national newspapers and TV. Those who know me well will know that I never, ever wanted to be the story, just to tell or share the story, as a journalist, correctly. I have never wanted to be on TV, I don’t want to be known, perhaps just be known of, to do my job well and to help people if I can and to get to the truth for others.

As all the family came together on Monday morning to start the process of making arrangements for Polly, I was contacted by the BBC for a quote about her. There has been quite a reaction to the news, because of me, with many kind words paid in tribute to my daughter and kindness shown towards me from those who listen and maybe even enjoy what I do daily on the radio. I gave the BBC ‘the line’, agreeing it while on the ‘phone to them with Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon hearing me do this. I wanted the quote, the tribute to come from Sarah, Polly’s mum, who did such a brilliant job in bringing our daughter up with Simon. The name order was also agreed to be ‘Sarah, her husband Simon Bosworth and John Darvall’. I was clear.

On Monday night, on Points West the local BBC News opt for the West, none of this happened in their broadcast about Polly. Simon was called Polly’s ‘stepdad’, a phrase we have NEVER used. Simon, Polly’s dad was straight on the phone to me. He was rightly furious and more. This journalistic failure significantly added to his pain, and to mine. To hear Polly’s dad rage at you about your profession, about the things you have clearly agreed whilst standing in his family home just hours before when our daughter has been killed…words fail me. This poor piece of journalism made Tuesday probably the worst day of this whole episode so far. This includes seeing our dead daughter in a hospital mortuary just 12 hours after she was killed.

Newspapers have contacted me and provided appallingly written articles, which I have had to change, ‘polish’ or make actual sense of. Other papers have published articles using my personal relationship as ‘the in line’, when this is NOT the story but, at best, just a very small part of the story. This has hurt many who are in the throes of grief. Other papers have just published without checking and have got facts wrong. See earlier blogs. One paper spliced a year off my age. I will take that!

The way we all consume news is changing. The way we share news has changed and will continue to change at a faster pace. This week TV and newspapers have proven to me why they are not the future of news. If they can’t even get their facts right, be trusted with clear information and then report it accurately is it any wonder that we are all turning to Facebook, Twitter and other internet sources for our news and information? The internet allows us to come to our own conclusions by checking our own facts. We really can’t trust the traditional outlets to do it right or properly.

I write this as a father who has lost a daughter. I write this as a journalist who loved his work but can now clearly see why so many have lost faith in his profession and traditional media. They, we and I have brought this on ourselves.

I also write this to set the record straight for Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon. I am ashamed to call myself a journalist and I am truly sorry to have added to your grief. I have spoken to Simon and he knows I have written this.

Two bits of advice for you reading this, if I may:

Trust nothing you read or watch. Check it, at least twice, as it’s more than likely wrong from just a single source.

Love your children and loved ones. Properly love them. Tell them every day, make sure they know that you love them regardless of what might be happening. Nothing is more important than that.

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